January 07, 2009 10:06:12am
Zep, Dead Drop Lawsuit Over Concert Footage
By Craig Anderson
Daily Journal Staff Writer
SAN JOSE - For two years, attorneys for rock superstars Led Zeppelin and the Grateful Dead waged a legal war against a Minnesota entrepreneur who bought old memorabilia and concert footage from the estate of promoter Bill Graham.
Last week, both sides gave up the fight.
In a three-page court filing, attorneys for the bands and music companies on one side, and memorabilia-hawking Web site Wolfgang's Vault on the other, filed a stipulation dropping the remaining claims and counterclaims against each other. Grateful Dead Productions v. Sagan, 06-CV7727 (N.D. Cal, filed 2006).
The lawsuits were dismissed without prejudice, meaning the bands can revive legal claims over whether the Web site's use of streaming video of old Zeppelin and Dead concerts infringe on their copyright. More likely, the parties have struck some sort of deal.
Lawyers for each side, who spent a lot of time in the past firing verbal attacks and squabbling over discovery, have stopped talking to reporters. Ashlie Beringer, a Denver-based partner with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who represents the bands, declined to comment about the lawsuit's dismissal.
Michael Elkin, a New York-based partner with Winston & Strawn who represents Wolfgang's Vault owner William E. Sagan and declined to comment on the case last month, could not be reached.
The concert footage in question, including 1969 Led Zeppelin shows and multiple performances by the Grateful Dead, remain available on the Wolfgang's Vault site, suggesting the parties may have reached some sort of financial agreement over their continued use.
Sagan acquired the memorabilia from the estate of Graham, a legendary Bay Area concert promoter who died in a helicopter crash in 1991.
The case, which once featured a libel claim by Sagan against Grateful Dead member Bob Weir, has gotten a lot more sedate during the past year as the parties met in mediation. All of the bands' infringement claims over the sale of old memorabilia were dropped in October, as was the claim against Weir.
Attorneys who had followed the case have said they were not surprised that it would settle, given the amount of money it was taking the two high-powered law firms to litigate it and the likely weakness of the trademark infringement claims over the memorabilia sales.
The surviving members of Led Zeppelin, plaintiff Carlos Santana, two members of onetime plaintiffs The Doors and several music company executives were deposed in the lawsuit.
Last month, Michael Sherman - the Los Angeles-based chairman of the entertainment group at Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro - said the case may have turned on Graham's agreements with the bands on what would happen to concert videos and promotional "swag" - T-shirts, mugs, posters and the like.
Sherman said then he was not surprised the two sides would ultimately decide to pursue a business deal instead of continuing to pursue the lawsuit.